Thinking about making a career change to social work? Social work is a meaningful career, and it’s also an attractive one. The following sections explore how the career change to social work can be a way for you to find meaning in your day-to-day work. You’ll also learn more about career opportunities and how the education you’ll need can fit into your current schedule. Finally, you’ll explore how your current career skills and experience can play a role in helping you succeed as a social worker.
Note that all employment data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Why Make the Career Change to Social Work?
When you consider making the career change to social work, the “why” behind it is remarkably clear: You’ll get to help people. Social work is one of a select number of careers where that goal is so explicit.
Social work is solely focused on improving the quality of life for people, and social workers interact with and help people who need it the most. In social work, you’ll make a difference by being there for at-risk populations who often struggle to receive help. Those populations include individuals with disabilities, living in institutional settings, from diverse cultures, who are homeless, and more.
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As a social worker, you’ll be able to help people who are disadvantaged in some way. Their needs can range from communication and independence to receiving health services and access to mass transit. You can also impact change at broad levels to help systems with prevention and early intervention for at-risk populations.
Another plus to making the career change to social work is that it’s a growing field. Employment of social workers is projected to increase at a rate that is more than double the average for all occupations. Different specialties boast high job outlook figures, too. By 2026, the employment rates of the following specialties are projected to increase 14%:
- Employment of child, family, and school social workers
- Employment of healthcare social workers
- Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers
There are additional opportunities, too. Because social work is focusing more on prevention and early intervention, positions are opening in nontraditional sectors, such as business and public policy. Making the career change to social work can integrate one or more of those specialties or aspects, providing you with many career possibilities.
Information about Social Work Careers
Need a better idea about the profession? Here’s some more information that can help you approach a potential career change to social work.
What Social Workers Do
Generally, social workers help people with issues in their everyday lives. A look at some common responsibilities of social workers can help you get a better sense of what being a social work often entails.
- Determining clients’ goals by examining their needs, situations, strengths, and support networks
- Helping clients with certain changes and challenges, like unemployment, medical events, and strained family relationships
- Linking client to community resources, like childcare and healthcare needs
- Providing support and assistance during crisis situations
- Helping create, maintain, and evaluate programs that help provide basic services to clients
Ultimately, your responsibilities as a potential social worker will depend on your specific role, industry, and any specialty. There’s a lot of variety in social work environments and specialties. For instance, clinical social workers are able to diagnose and treat different mental, behavioral, and emotional issues, in addition to other duties. Also, the three specialties that the BLS provides job outlook statistics for — child, family, and school social work; healthcare social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social work — offer some additional specialties.
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Within those environments, there are even more specialties. For instance, as a child, family, and school social worker, you could work specifically in foster care, helping place children in the foster care system with loving families. As a healthcare social worker, you could work specifically in areas like hospice social work, assisting patients and families. Another specialty in that environment is medical social work, which involves helping guide, educate, and counsel patients with chronic or terminal illnesses.
Pay and Job Outlook
The median annual wage for social workers is $47,980, and there’s plenty of room for salary growth in certain industries. For instance, social workers working in hospitals earn $58,490, and those working in local government earn $52,900.
As noted previously, social workers enjoy strong growth in the overall career and within many specialties. Employment of social workers overall is projected to increase 16% by 2026.
How to Become a Social Worker
Becoming social worker requires a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). That degree will prepare you to work with individuals, families, and groups in a number of environments and roles. Obtaining a strong foundation in the field with a BSW is an ideal step to making the career change to social work. Online BSW programs make it easy to gain the education you need to achieve your career goals by providing you with a flexible format that works with your current schedule.
To become a clinical social worker, you’ll need a master’s degree in social work (MSW). That degree will provide you with the clinical assessment and management skills needed to provide counseling services in your specialty. Like with the BSW, there are online MSW programs that can help you enhance your education in a convenient learning environment.
Licensure is required for all clinical roles and in many entry-level positions. The specific requirements vary by state, however. Often, non-clinical social workers will need to pass their state’s bachelor’s-level examination with the Association of Social Work Boards. Clinical social workers need two years of supervised experience after completing their MSW, and then they must pass an exam.
Current Transferable Skills
What kinds of skills will you need to become a social worker? Here are a few notable skills that social workers use on a regular basis:
Social workers must listen to and understand their clients’ needs. Additionally, communication skills allow social workers to interact with people and organizations in the community, which is relevant for obtaining support services, providing education, and developing programs.
Empathy with clients is crucial for social workers as they need to be able to display compassion and patience to clients. Since clients are often experiencing tough situations, social workers need to have high emotional intelligence to effectively meet clients’ needs and develop strong relationships with them.
Social workers have to manage their caseloads and keep up with other responsibilities. Social work can involve multiple clients and plenty of paperwork, so strong organizational skills are necessary.
Your Career Change to Social Work
Making the career change to social work isn’t as difficult as you might think. In the previous section, you may have noticed some skills that you’ve already developed in your personal or professional life. Those can pay off if you decide to become a social worker.
One example of that principle in action is the career change from nurse to social worker. In nursing, all of the aforementioned skills are important. Helping patients in medical settings requires communication and emotional skills, just like it does in social workers. Also, nurses must manage a number of patients while taking care of other responsibilities, like preparing for shift changes and doing paperwork. If you’re considering a career change from nurse to social worker, the transition could be fairly seamless in terms of skills and interpersonal dynamics. Both of these helping professions place a strong emphasis on not just making a difference in people’s lives, but developing relationships and interacting with people on a deeper level than a lot of other careers.
What if you’re not a nurse? You might be surprised how your skills could apply to a career change to social work. For instance, a background in business could mean that you have the analytical skills needed to succeed in building community programs as a social worker. If you have a background in teaching, it could have helped you acquire the communication skills needed to become a social worker. Like social workers, teachers need to not only communicate clearly with students, but interact and collaborate with parents, other teachers, and administrators.
Those types of scenarios can help illustrate how you can complete your career change to social work. It might seem daunting, but with the right education and skills, you can achieve your goals and have a successful career as a social worker.